by John Ellis
During a recent chapel service, Union Seminary called those in attendance to gather around a group of plants and, in their words, “we held our grief, joy, regret, hope, guilt and sorrow in prayer; offering them to the beings who sustain us but whose gift we too often fail to honor.”
Predictably, the responses were swift, many, and mocking. Tweets, Facebook posts, blog posts, and a host of other online vehicles took pot shots at the seminary’s actions. I took the opportunity to join the piling on, too. While reading Luke 6 this morning, specifically verses 27-31, though, my conscience was pricked. After pausing to prayerfully reflect, I determined that my words did not comport with Jesus’ command to love our enemies.
27 “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. 29 To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. 30 Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back. 31 And as you wish that others would do to you, do so to them.
To be sure, Union Seminary’s actions deserve criticism; confessing and praying to plants is full-on paganism and should be named as such. But deserving criticism and even denunciation does not supersede Jesus’ commands to speak and act charitably nor undo Paul’s admonition found in Ephesians 5 where followers of Christ are commanded to “walk in love, as Christ loved us.”
Those verses in Luke 6 are preceded by a series of beatitudes and woes. Speaking to his disciples, Jesus reminded them of the great hope that was theirs because they were his. He was holding out the encouragement that even though they were going to be hated by the world for his sake, the blessings of the Father were theirs. Jesus promised, “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man … your reward is great in heaven (Luke 6:22-23).”
Jesus then transitions to the four woes, condemning those who find their hope and comfort in this life. The contrast is stark: God’s people are hated and have their reward to come; the Serpent’s seed seek out their reward in the here and now. Those two priorities clash. And how are God’s people to respond when the Kingdom’s priorities clash with the kingdom’s priorities? “But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you (Luke 6:27-28).”
Even in times when criticisms and pastoral warnings demand a level of sharpness, we are called to walk in love as we love our enemies. Rebukes do not require mockery. Sadly, many of the responses to Union Seminary, including my own, failed to demonstrate that our identity and hope is in Christ.
To be sure, the tongue has always been a ready source for strife (see the Proverbs and James), but social media has added components that exacerbate the dangers of the tongue. We have access to people on a level and to a degree that would astound our brothers and sisters in Christ from just a few generations ago. Thankfully, God’s Word is sufficient, even through the roiling changes of civilization’s technological advances. Jesus and Paul’s words apply to our Tweets, Facebook posts, and blog posts as much as they apply to how we communicate with our neighbors, friends, and loved ones when standing face-to-face. Two negative examples jump out as I think about using words to build up and social media: Me and The Babylon Bee.
Writing an article like this, it’s tempting to point my finger at others; to share biting tweets and cynical blog posts that cut the enemies of Christ deeply. But that would be a violation of Luke 6:37-38 and its parallel passage found in Matthew 7:1-5. I need to get the plank out of my own eye before rooting around at the speck in the eyes of others.
Not only have I seen both the blessing and the curse inherent in modern technology, specifically social media platforms, I have willfully swung back and forth between both. I have written articles, composed Facebook posts, and hit “send” on tweets that I believe have been an encouragement and blessing to many and that have glorified God while being used by the Spirit to further the Kingdom. However, I have also used the platforms God has provided me to glorify myself at the expense of others. I have published words that are not characterized by love but, instead, give evidence that my identity and hope are often placed elsewhere other than in my gracious Savior. I have written articles that I am ashamed of and have repented of writing.
I’m not unique in this. And, so, I ask fellow Believers to self-reflect with me: if the transgender server, whom you are called to love and serve by sharing the gospel of Jesus Christ, were to comb through your social media posts, would that help or hinder your gospel witness? Likewise, if your leftist neighbor, whom you are called to love and serve, were to read your thoughts and opinions about earthly politics, would they be more or less likely to listen to the gospel from your lips?
Words contain great power. The Apostle James understood this, which is why he described the tongue as, “a fire, a world of unrighteousness (James 3:6).” Later in the same chapter, he mimics the commands of Jesus and Paul and reminds us that, “the wisdom from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, open to reason, full of mercy and good fruits, impartial and sincere. And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace (James 3:17-18).”
And a harvest of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.
Are my words online sown in peace? Are your words online sown in peace?
In his commentary on the book of James, the late theologian Alec Motyer explains:
Now a seed needs its own proper conditions for germination, growth and fruitage. However good the seed, it cannot thrive out of its environment. Even if it does not die, it will not properly grow; even if it grows, it will not properly bear. The conditions must be right. So it is also in this case. The crop demands the context for its true growth.
James takes his gardening metaphor seriously. Peace is the soil and those who make peace are the green-fingered gardeners [emphasis kept].
Motyer makes sure to situate his commentary in James’ context in this passage – the life of the local church – and, so, he concludes this section with the reminder that, “A harmonious fellowship of believers is the soil out of which grows the whole life that is pleasing to God.”
Make no mistake, there is a direct correlation between healthy churches and their effectiveness as a light to a dark world. Being peace makers bears fruit both inside and outside the church. Just because James was writing specifically about living in harmony within the Body that doesn’t give us license to treat outsiders with contempt and anger. Circling back to Jesus’ words, we are called to love our enemies, and mocking is the antithesis of loving.
And this brings me to my second negative example: The Babylon Bee.
To guard against self-righteousness, I’m not intending to impugn the motives of the specific writers of the Bee. No doubt, they love Jesus and are characterized in their non-online life by love and good works. I pray that’s true of them and of me. That being said, though, The Babylon Bee encapsulates broader Christendom’s problem of an untamed online tongue. It serves as a highly visible stand-in for how our words on social media platforms are often characterized by lack of charity and a rejection of peace making.
Satire is sharp. Incredibly sharp. It’s intended to cut deeply. Unless the person wielding the sword of satire is defter with words than Moliere, the satire will strike unintended targets. Not might but will. And that’s not to mention that, at times, the Bee’s very targets are sitting in the pews praising and worshipping the same Savior as those who chortle at the article’s sharp witticisms.
For example, and there are many to choose from, a recent Babylon Bee post mocked women who participate in multi-level marketing companies. I saw that article splashed across my newsfeeds for days. As I read the article’s headline and noticed the accompanying taunting comments, I couldn’t help but wonder how dear sisters in Christ who do participate in MLMs are responding to fellow church members openly mocking them. Most likely, embarrassment coupled with the belief that those who are called to love and serve them look down on them. And that belief would be justified because it was in black and white for the entire world to see.
That’s just one example out of many. As followers of Jesus, we need to mimic him and not Dorothy Parker or Jonathan Swift. Being bitingly witty isn’t a fruit of the Spirit.
The word reforming is overused, but if I may be permitted to overuse it, followers of Jesus need to be reforming our social media use. I’m afraid that if all of Christendom’s social media posts and comments and memes were compiled, the largest percentage of them would not reflect well on the Kingdom. I know mine wouldn’t. But God’s grace is sufficient, and Christ has redeemed us from the bondage of sin; we are free in Christ to use our social media platforms in the service of God and others. By the power of the Holy Spirit, lets grab hold of the victory that is already ours and promote peace online with our words and posts.
Soli Deo Gloria
 J.A. Motyer, The Message of James (Downers Grove, IL: Intervarsity Press, 1985), 137-138.
 Motyer, The Message of James, 138.